HEADNOTE
Now I realize some of my loyal readers feel they already know more than they ever wanted to know about Brian Williams. They don’t seem to understand this maxi-series is more than just an account of a singular event in TV journalism. It is my “Remembrance of Things Past.” The Paris critics might have said, “Ah chere Marcel, enough already. Go eat your madelanes and take a nap.” Not that I think of myself as a Proust. Or even a Prowst, as some hipsters call him. Anyway, these reflections on the state of television news can not equal the ordeal of the hero, who is on the Six Month-DL, while the brainiacs at NBC, who picked him, will decide when he can return from Coventry, or wherever he has been mulling over where he went wrong. For the impatient, all I can say is A la Recherché par Les Temps Perdue.

The Rise & Decline of Brian the Mediocre, Part VI

The Pinocchio Awards

1.

Who is the biggest alleged embellisher or liar of the year, the man who is most likely to be awarded the lies like a rug trophy for being the most creative in turning a non-fiction medium into fiction? The two leading candidates for the so-called Pinocchio, the equivalent of the Pulitzer in news non-fiction, are Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and Brian Williams of NBC News.

The case for O’Reilly winning a Pinny is compelling. His alleged achievements in deviating from the truth are legendary. Based on the reports of documented evidence that he has either mischaracterized or blatantly lied about his coverage of the Falkland War, a bombing in Northern Ireland, the murder of nuns in El Salvador, and the suicide of a key player in the JFK assassination saga, all of which he seems to have attended in person. According to one impeachable source, ”the Big Fat Liar can’t stop himself from lying.”

O’Reilly’s view of reporting seems that if he has been in the same town, county, state or country where a historic event occurred, it’s okay to make a book out of how he was there when it all happened. I look forward to reading his next best seller, his experiences being with Gen. Wainwright on the Bataan Death March from Corregidor in 1942.

2.

Is Brian Williams in the same league as an alleged prevaricator as Bill (I was there) O’Reilly?

The Judge and Jury—the Esposito Commission conducting the internal investigation at NBC looking into Brian’s possibly biggest whopper—is still out. Space limitations prevent my dwelling on the details of the embellishment that was heard around the world of journalism. Suffice it to say, he had made the mistake on the January 30 “Nightly News” segment about being in a helicopter that was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade during the opening hours of the Iraq War in 2003, a war story he had repeated from time to time.

What he meant to say, according to Iraqi War veterans on social media, is that the war hero had been on another chopper that landed unscathed.

As you know, according to the TV news system of criminal justice, a person is guilty until proven innocent.

By the time the Esposito Commission renders final judgments, I suspect Brian Williams will emerge as the Jason Blair of TV journalism. Already there is speculation he also may have confabulated his prize-winning reporting on Katrina.

As an old fart contrarian, I tend to wait until all the evidence is in before rendering judgment. Nevertheless, at this stage, my answer to the above question is “no.”

3.

Brian is a second-class embellisher. A blue-collar guy from New Jersey who never went to college, Brian is a man who needed to concoct dreams of glory to enhance his self-image, which is low. He has an inferiority complex because he is inferior. He is a victim of the Brian Principle, being promoted to next level of incompetence by the NBC cabal that made him the face of NBC News (See Part VII).

On the other hand, O’Reilly is a blue-collar guy who has a superiority complex. As explained in my biography “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O’Reilly,” he is one of those people who may often be wrong, but never in doubt. He is an industrial-strength liar, suffering from latent Zelig Disease, causing the afflicted to insert himself into a picture of any great event. But he is no Woody Allen!

4.

I tend to be a hold-the-phone judge of journalism feats. Did Stanley, for example, actually ask Dr. Livingston that he presumed to be the same Dr. Livingston he had been hunting in darkest Africa for more than a year? Or did he say something like “Where the fuck have you been, you old goat?”

Was Murrow actually on the roof reporting the London Blitz in World War II? Or in a pub hoisting a half pint or two of bitters? His reports were on radio, after all. And you may remember how convincing had been Orson Welles’ reporting the Martians invasion of New Jersey.

Who knows what would have held up if there was social media on the beat in olden times, reporting the latest gossip, innuendo and other facts, some of which may be true. Two twitters today can make a trending truth.

Did Brian actually see the bodies floating in the water in the streets of New Orleans after Katrina, as his doubters are wondering? Or did somebody else see them, and tell Brian about it?

5.

Now I’m not suggesting that Brian is a George Washington when it comes to veracity. If he is guilty of embellishing or lying it is despicable and a violation of an ancient journalism code. Still he does work in a profession that is said to be, according to all the polls, that is the most trusted source of information. (Insert laugh track here)

TV news’ holier than thou sanctimonious so-called respect for the truth always seemed to be wholly out of synch with reality. It is a medium built on deception, starting with the anchorman looking us in the eye as if talking person to person, while reading a script under the camera, a misconception enhanced by the anchor shuffling papers on the desk.

Take my favorite TV journalism lie, the so-called “eyewitness news,” a local journalism concept invented by Al Primo at WABC/7 in the 1970’s, which spread like kudzu in local journalism across the nation. Except in rare moments, before the Smartphone, it was usually post-witness news.

6.

And for argument’s sake, if Williams were guilty of embellishing or lying, he would seem to be in the mainstream of society

Don’t you just love the way everyone from the President, his wife, the Postmaster-General and Ms. Trustworthy Herself, Oprah, led us to believe the quote from the late Poet-General Maya Angelou (“A caged bird doesn’t sing”) ended up on hundreds of millions of Forever stamps, even though she didn’t write the line? Sic transit Joan Walsh Anglund.

Campaign promises, by definition, are filled with embellishments One Bush claims the war was won in Iraq while his bro, Jeb, claims to be Hispanic.

Lance Armstrong is in the Pinny Hall of Shame for being caught lying to us seven times about his riding in a dope-free zone. Every time sport journalists are interviewing a manager or coach they embellish or lie about their chances. They never say, “We suck. Forget about next year!”

And, of course, the worse case scenarios are the commercials on the news. News shows these days seem like a series of commercials, interrupted by some film footage. The basic function of advertising is to embellish or lie to get us to buy more stuff we have enough of already and don’t need in the first place.

You pick up a phone and a robot caller says “Don’t hang up. This is not a sales pitch,” and proceeds to give us a pitch, which often is as trustworthy as the email from a long-lost relative in Nigeria informing us there’s a million dollars waiting. Just give them your social security number.

We are bombarded with embellishments and lies by mail, phone, broadband and wireless 24/7. Let’s face it, folks, we live in a scamocracy.

So it’s not surprising that NBC has been palming off Brian Williams as the most trusted name in America for the last 12 years, a man who with a nightly audience of more than eight million seems to be almost genetically bred to eventually fail as a newscaster and war correspondent.

7.

Who rightfully deserves to win this year’s Pinny – Billo or Brian?

If only Keith Olbermann was still on the air at MSNBC. My favorite moment of truth in journalism was a segment on his “Countdown”: “The Worst Liar of the Day.” O’Reilly dominated, winning the gold 43 times, when I stopped counting.

Okay, where do I really stand, or sit, on Brian misspeaking, if that’s what he has done?

I am firm believer in the Faraone conundrum, the bar expansion theory, also known as the fish story. “A guy sits at the bar on the dock after a day of fishing,” as distinguished TV news publicist, Ted Faraone, explains it. “After catching a fish of moderately respectable size the fish continues to grow with each retelling of the tale. Eventually the guy landed Moby Dick, and we do not mean Nixon. After awhile he starts to believe his own exaggeration. Eventually, he is dodging surface-to- air rockets in Iraq.”

Funny, but there is very little fishing in Iraq. That must have confused him

30

  

Next, does the punishment fit the crime?

--
Marvin Kitman
Executive Producer
The Marvin Kitman Show
April 10, 2015

Marvin Kitman is the author of “The Coward’s Almanac, or the Yellow Pages” [Doubleday & Co., 1975].